Game 22: Win it for Hiroki

That's a 70 pitchface. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Hiroki Kuroda has been alternating bad and very good starts for the Yankees during the first month of the season, and the today the clocks points to a stinker. Thankfully it doesn’t work like that, the fact that he’s alternated good and bad starts doesn’t make him any more likely to get hit around today than the weather or his choice of breakfast cereals. CC Sabathia did his part to set the rotation straight yesterday afternoon, and now it’s time for Kuroda to follow his lead and repeat his strong effort against the Rangers last week against the Orioles tonight. Here’s the starting nine…

SS Derek Jeter
CF Curtis Granderson
DH Alex Rodriguez
2B Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixeira
RF Raul Ibanez
3B Eric Chavez
Russell Martin
LF Eduardo Nunez

RHP Hiroki Kuroda

Tonight’s game starts a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES. enjoy.

Injury Updates: Swisher & Gardner

Via Bryan Hoch, outfielder Nick Swisher is likely to miss a week after suffering a low-grade hamstring strain in yesterday’s game. Joe Girardi said they’re going to try to avoid placing him on the DL, which I honestly don’t understand. Minor hamstring strains can become major hamstring strains very easily, especially if they aren’t given the proper time to heal. Just sit him down for the 15 days and make sure he’s healthy without handicapping the roster.

In other news, Hoch reports that Brett Gardner again took his hacks in the cage today. He will take batting practice on the field tomorrow and is on track to be activated when his DL stint is up on Thursday. Until then, the Yankees appear content to use a 13-man pitching staff and a two-man bench.

Pettitte gives up six runs in latest minor league start

Via Marc Carig and Bryan Hoch, left-hander Andy Pettitte gave up six runs in his latest minor league tune-up start today. He threw 95 pitches, which is the good news. Joe Girardi downplayed the results, saying most of the damage was wind-aided. Getting stretched out really is the most important thing at this point.

The Yankees have said they want Pettitte to throw 100 pitches in at least two minor league starts before considering him for the big league rotation, though I assume this game counts since 95 is close enough to 100. Either way, it’s all but guaranteed that Andy will make at least one more minor league start. That could out him on track to rejoin the rotation late next week if all goes well.

Update: Mark Feinsand and Erik Boland have the entire pitching line: 5.2 IP, 10 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 0 BB, 8 K. He actually threw 96 pitches, including 71 for strikes (74.0%).

Missing: Mark Teixeira’s walks

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Answer: Jerome Williams.
Question: Who was the last pitcher to walk Mark Teixeira?

It’s been 52 plate appearances since Teixeira last drew a walk, dating all the way back to the final game of the home-opener series against the Angels. He’d drawn five walks in his previous 38 plate appearances, a 13.2% walk rate that isn’t completely out of line with the 11.5% career walk rate he brought into the season. But since then, nothing. Tex hasn’t drawn a walk or even been hit by a pitch — something he’s quite good at, actually — since his plate appearance against Williams more than two full weeks ago.

Sample sizes are one of the biggest analytical dangers this early in the season, but swing and contact rates are the very first thing to stabilize. They only take 50-75 plate appearances to even out. Teixeira is at 90 plate appearances at the moment, so we can start to draw some conclusions from his swing tendencies and performance even though it’s still only April. Here’s a look at his swing and contact rates, courtesy of FanGraphs

Right off the bat you can see that Teixeira is not only swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone than ever before (30.5%), he’s also making more contact with those pitches as well (75.5%). That’s a great recipe for not drawing walks. His swing rate on pitches in the zone (60.5%) is pretty normal compared to recent years, though his contact rate on those offerings is a touch high (94.9%). That’s why Teixeira has struck out in just 11.1% of his plate appearances, a career-low by several percentage points.

We have an idea of why Teixeira hasn’t been drawing walks lately, but why has he been swinging at more pitches out of the zone? That’s not something we can answer here, it could be a countless number of different reasons. Maybe he’s pressing, maybe he’s swinging at more pitches on the outside corner in an effort to go the other way, or maybe it’s one of a million other things. Teixeira’s latest slump — 2-for-24 with no extra-base hits — has dragged his season line down to .229/.278/.386, so the lack of walks is just one piece of the problem. Plate discipline is the root of offensive performance, and right now Tex’s isn’t where it should be.

4/30-5/2 Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles

(Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

After eight games and one rain delay against the beasts of the AL, the schedule lightens up a bit and the Yankees welcome the Orioles to the Bronx this evening. The Fightin’ Showalters played the Yankees tough earlier this month despite being swept, forcing them into a pair of extra-inning games.

What Have They Done Lately?

Believe it or not, the Orioles are on a roll right now. They scored five runs in the bottom of the ninth yesterday for a walk-off win against Bartolo Colon and the Athletics, their second straight win and sixth in their last seven games. Baltimore currently sits atop the AL East with a 14-8 record and a +13 run differential that ranks third in the league behind the Rangers and Yankees.

Offense

(J. Meric/Getty Images)

With 95 runs scored and an average of 4.32 runs per game, the Orioles rank 11th and 12th in the big leagues in offensive output, respectively. Their 99 wRC+ ranks 16th in the league and is exactly league average for all intents and purposes. They’ve been carried offensively by Adam Jones (166 wRC+) and Matt Wieters (152 wRC+), two young players that really stepped their game up in 2012. Wieters in particular has improved over the last season, jumping into the upper echelon of catchers.

Nolan Reimold (180 wRC+) missed a few games with a neck strain but is back just in time for this series. Chris Davis (153 wRC+) has been doing major damage so far, and he’s even managed to get his strikeout issues under control (22.7 K%). The always annoying Robert Andino (111 wRC+) is exactly that, always annoying. With him batting ninth, Baltimore has a nice 9-5 batting order with Andino, Reimold, J.J. Hardy (53 wRC+), Nick Markakis (93 wRC+), Jones, and Wieters.

The supporting cast hasn’t been all that great, with Mark Reynolds (35 wRC+) off to a slow start and the former Yankee DH platoon of Wilson Betemit (101 wRC+) and Nick Johnson (-49 wRC+) essentially cancelling each other out. None out outside of Jones will steal bases — he has four, the team has six total — but they will hit the ball out of the park. Baltimore ranks third in baseball with 30 dingers, with Reimold (five), Jones (six), and Wieters (six) doing most of the damage.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Jason Hammel
Back in the AL after three years with the Rockies, Hammel is off to great start this season. The former (Devil) Ray has allowed no more than two runs in any of his four starts, completing at least six innings three times. His strikeout (8.65 K/9 and 24.8 K%) and ground ball (61.8%) rates are way off his career norms (6.33 K/9, 16.1 K% and 45.5 GB%) while his usually low walk rate (2.77 BB/9 and 7.9 BB%) has remained the same. Hammel has changed his pitch selection a bit, possibly explained the improved performance. He’s relying on his low-to-mid-90s two-seamer (40.5%) and mid-80s slider (24.6%) more than ever before while mixing in the occasional four-seamer and curveball. I’m very interested to see the new version of Hammel and whether or not this improvement is real. We do have some tangible evidence that it might be.

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Tuesday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. LHP Brian Matusz
What an appropriate matchup. Two young phenoms who have pitched far below expectations and battled mysterious missing velocity disease last season. Like Hughes, Matusz’s velocity has returned but the performance is still awful. He’s allowed 17 runs in 20.2 IP this year with nearly as many walks (13) as strikeouts (14) and a 32.9% ground ball rate. He’s in the low-90s with his four-seamer and cutter, low-80s with the changeup and slider, and upper-70s with the curveball. The top left-handed pitching prospect in baseball as recently as two years ago, Matusz’s career has been derailed in a big way. The Yankees tagged him for four runs in four innings in his first start of the season a few weeks ago.

Wednesday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Jake Arrieta
The de facto ace, Arrieta started the season well but got knocked around a bit in his last two starts. His strikeout (7.12 K/9 and 19.5 K%) and ground ball (37.9%) rates are in line with last season, though he has cut down on the walks in a big way (2.67 BB/9 and 7.3 BB%). That might have something to do with having bone chips removed from his elbow at the end of last season. Arrieta sits in the low-to-mid-90s with his four-seamer and sinker, backing them up with an upper-80s slider, upper-70s curveball, and mid-80s changeup. The changeup is just a show-me pitch, the two breaking balls are his go-to secondary offerings. The Yankees scored four runs in 6.2 IP off Arrieta a few weeks ago.

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Bullpen Status
Showalter has had to use his bullpen quite a bit this season, though the Orioles’ relief corps has gotten a bit of a breather in recent days. Righty specialist Darren O’Day (2.49 FIP) and setup man Pedro Strop (3.18 FIP) threw 17 and 23 pitches each yesterday, respectively. Former Yankee Luis Ayala (2.68 FIP) threw two innings and 28 pitches on Saturday, the only reliever they needed that day.

Closer Jim Johnson (3.73 FIP) is back with the team after a four-day stint in the hospital with food poisoning. He hasn’t pitched in a game since last Sunday. Right-handers Matt Lindstrom (1.91 FIP) and Kevin Gregg (7.54 FIP) haven’t pitched since Friday, and neither has lefty Troy Patton (4.05 FIP). He’s more of a multi-inning guy than a specialist. Overall, the Baltimore bullpen owns a 3.38 FIP, right behind the Yankees (3.23 FIP) and third best in the AL.

Despite Freddy Garcia’s five-out start on Saturday, the Yankees’ bullpen is in fine shape because CC Sabathia went eight innings yesterday. D.J. Mitchell was called up to take over as the long man after David Phelps was moved into the rotation. Garcia is now working out of the bullpen and is probably the only guy not available tonight. For the latest and greatest from B’more, we recommend Camden Crazies.

The Injured Outfield

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

The Yankees have a bit of an outfield problem at the moment. Brett Gardner has been on the DL for nearly two weeks with a bone bruise and a right elbow strain, and yesterday Nick Swisher joined him in the infirmary with a low-grade left hamstring strain. The early word is that it will keep him on the shelf for “more than a few days” but not long enough to require a DL stint. It’s one of those in-between injuries, one that really throws a wrench into the current roster situation.

At the moment, the starting outfield is Curtis Granderson in center with Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones flanking him in the corners. The fourth outfielder is Eduardo Nunez by default, and he has 18.1 career innings in the outfield. The Yankees are left with a two-man bench for the time being, and one of the two is the backup catcher. Unless they unexpectedly release Freddy Garcia or demote the recently recalled D.J. Mitchell, there’s no obvious candidate on the pitching staff to go to Triple-A in favor of an extra position player.

“We won’t (add an outfielder) before tomorrow,” said Joe Girardi after yesterday’s game. “We’ll see how it goes. Gardy’s eligible to come back on Thursday. We’ll see how that goes. We could try to go through (without a call-up until then). We’ll see what happens and go from there.”

Gardner has swung in the cage in each of the last two days and could take batting practice as soon as today. I don’t know if a minor league rehab stint is necessary after such a short layoff, but basically everything has to go right between now and Thursday for the Yankees to get him back into the outfield after the minimum 15 days. It’s certainly possible, but planning for the best case scenario never seems like a smart thing to do.

If Swisher’s injury truly doesn’t require a DL stint, the best roster solution probably involves placing Garcia on the DL. They’re not going to release him after four starts, and frankly the Yankees should hold onto whatever pitching depth they have at the moment. Girardi did suggest that Freddy could be sent for medical tests following Saturday’s game due to his relative lack of velocity, and that alone would give them a reason to put him on the shelf. The Yankees could keep Garcia in the organization, keep Mitchell’s fresh arm in the bullpen, and keep Swisher off the DL while adding an extra position player to the roster. It’s a win-win (-win-win).

Having both Ibanez and Jones in the outfield at the same time for the next few days will bring back memories of the defensive disaster years when Bobby Abreu and Johnny Damon roamed the corner outfield spots in the Bronx. It won’t be pretty, but hopefully it’s only temporary. Even if it is, the Yankees would really be rolling the dice with a two-man bench until Gardner comes off the DL. Brandon Laird makes sense as a temporary reinforcement since he’s already on the 40-man roster, can play both the infield and outfield corners, and can easily be optioned down later in the week. It’s just a matter of being willing to clear a 25-man roster spot.

Fan Confidence Poll: March 30th, 2012

Record Last Week: 3-3 (28 RS, 28 RA)
Season Record: 12-9 (118 RS, 101 RA, 12-9 pythag. record), 1.5 games back in AL East
Opponents This Week: vs. Orioles (three games, Mon. to Weds.), @ Royals (four games, Thurs. to Sun.)

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{democracy:226}